I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with red meat. And by that I mean I love beef burgers and hate everything else.
Save for a good, flavorful burger, I find most other red meat unappetizing and tend to steer clear of it, opting instead for veggie-heavy meals.
That’s why I was excited — and sure, slightly skeptical — when I heard about plant-based “burgers” that look, taste, and feel like ground beef.
Beyond Meat® claims its plant-based burger “looks, cooks, and satisfies like beef.” A bold claim, to be sure, especially considering that its main ingredient is pea protein, which — let’s be real — doesn’t exactly scream “beefy.”
(Impossible™ Burger, another brand of plant-based burgers, includes soy lehemoglobin, the “magic ingredient” that makes its burgers taste, look, and feel like ground beef. Impossible Burgers are currently only available in select restaurants.)
With claims like these, the next logical step is a taste test, of course!
For the purposes of this experiment, I went with Beyond Burger so I could get the full experience, from purchase to first bite.
What Is Beyond Meat Made Of?
The number-one question on everyone’s minds: What’s in a plant-based burger, anyway? Here’s the 411…
Here’s the full ingredient list for Beyond Meat burgers:*
Pea Protein Isolate, Expeller Pressed Canola Oil, Refined Coconut Oil, Water, Yeast Extract, Maltodextrin, Natural Flavors, Gum Arabic, Sunflower Oil, Salt, Succinic Acid, Acetic Acid, Non-GMO Modified Food Starch, Cellulose From Bamboo, Methylcellulose, Potato Starch, Beet Juice Extract (for color), Ascorbic Acid (to maintain color), Annatto Extract (for color), Citrus Fruit Extract (to maintain quality), Vegetable Glycerin. No GMOs or soy.
In Beyond Meat burgers, it’s the beet juice extract that mimics the “bleeding” when you cook beef burgers. (More on that later… )
Calories: 290 per four-ounce patty (1 serving)
Fat: 22 grams
Saturated fat: 5 grams
Protein: 20 grams
Carbohydrates: 6 grams
Cholesterol: 0 grams
For comparison, here are the stats for a four-ounce ground beef patty (80 percent lean meat, 20 percent fat, cooked):
Fat: 20 grams
Saturated fat: 8 grams
Protein: 29 grams
Carbohydrates: 0 grams
Cholesterol: 99 grams
Buying the “Meat”
The first step was to find the burger. I assumed I’d have to drive to a specialty health food store because there’s no way your average grocery store would carry fancy plant-based beef burgers, right? Wrong.
There it was, right in the meat section: The package contains two perfectly round, pre-shaped pink patties that look exactly like raw beef. It’s uncanny.
I picked up two packages for $5.99 each, along with my favorite burger fixings: avocado, tomato, lettuce, and red onion.
Cooking the “Meat”
I invited my boyfriend, a self-proclaimed beef aficionado who’s never turned down a burger in his life, to join my experiment.
He marveled at how much the patties looked like beef. “This is the burger? It looks so real,” he said.
But that’s where the marveling stopped. Because while the “burgers” may look eerily similar to beef, they sure don’t smell like it.
When we opened the package and leaned in for a whiff, the smell was… different. Nothing terrible or gag-inducing, just slightly “manufactured.”
I seasoned three of the patties with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, then left one patty unseasoned to use as the control.
The instructions on the package said to cook the burgers for 3 minutes on each side; they would look either pink or red when fully cooked, similar to the shade they started at.
Although the indefinable smell lingered as the burgers cooked, they looked juicy and greasy in the skillet — they even bled like regular beef, thanks to the beet juice extract.
Three minutes, a quick flip, another 3 minutes, and bam — they were done. No guessing, no salmonella or e.coli fears, or waiting for the exact right shade of pink.
Tasting the “Meat”
We toasted buns, piled them with lettuce, red onion, tomato, avocado, and ketchup, then slid the burgers on top.
After snapping a quick pic, I picked up my burger and — in what felt like a very ceremonious moment — took a big bite. To my great delight, I liked it — it tasted like a burger! My boyfriend was pleasantly surprised and agreed.
As we chowed on, though, I started to notice subtle differences. Despite being super thick and fatty-tasting (likely due to the coconut oil), the burger wasn’t quite as juicy as animal-based beef, nor was it crispy the way grilled burgers are.
Rather, it had a dense, spongy texture that made it slightly chewy. And when we tried a bite of the unseasoned patty sans bun and toppings, it didn’t hold the same appeal at all.
I thoroughly enjoyed the burger and so did my boyfriend, who ate two patties quite happily.
That said, we both agreed that the main reason the burger tricks your tastebuds so well is that it has a texture and flavor that’s easily disguised when you load it with all the typical burger fixings.
I don’t think it would be quite as tasty on its own — wrapped in lettuce, for example, or eaten with a knife and fork.
And if you don’t like beef to begin with, it’s probably not your best option — the bloody color and fatty taste might put you off.
Twenty minutes of discussion and two rounds of fries later, my boyfriend concluded that if he wanted a vegan burger for dinner, he’d rather dig into something obviously different from beef, like a spicy black bean patty, rather than an imitation beef burger.
I prefer the grainy texture of a black bean burger, too, but I could definitely see myself whipping up a couple Beyond Meat burgers once in a while to mix things up or reduce my meat consumption without sacrificing flavor.
I’d love to experiment with different seasonings, though, (like crushed red pepper or minced onion) to see how they interact.
All said (and eaten), it wasn’t the best burger I’ve ever had, but it was definitely a delicious take on the real thing.
*Information pulled from Beyondmeat.com on January 30.
Beyond Meat is a trademark of Savage River, Inc.
Impossible is a trademark of Impossible Foods, Inc.